A sense of mystery surrounds Chilean playwright Guillermo Calderón’s play, Kiss, even before an audience is seated. Playgoers are told that the expected program will be given to the spectators after the final curtain. And, yes, they were indeed handed out as the audience exited the performance space.
The initial scene takes place in Damascus, Syria in the current time. In the style of a kind of popular Syrian melodrama called “musalsalaat,” four young adults gather in an apartment for dinner. What takes place is akin to the overheated Spanish language telenovelas. A very earnest Youssif (Kevin Matthew Reyes) declares his love for Hadeel (Kristin Couture), a feckless willow-o’-the wisp, who is in love with Youssif even though she is the girl friend of Ahmed (Max Lloyd-Jones). Youssif not only betrays his own girl friend, Bana (Natali Anna), but also his best friend Ahmed. The entire scene is played at an unrealistic fever pitch of desperate high emotion that calls attention to the ridiculousness of the situation. It is a style, a directorial choice that is fully embraced by the actors. The action is hilarious in its absurdity and prompts much laughter from the audience.
The play, however, takes some very serious turns that call up the grievous, dire political and humanitarian situation in Syria. Kiss is a theatrical response to the endless horror in the Middle East and intends to arouse the emotions of an audience. What can the theatre world do to affect the situation? Very little it seems, except to call attention by touching the audience in a visceral way. I believe this is what Calderón aims to do with this provocative theatre piece. Although Kiss is eminently watchable, entertainment is not the goal.
Kiss is directed by Bart DeLorenzo, with scenic design by Nina Caussa, lighting design by Katelan Braymer, and costume design by Raquel Barreto. Cynthia Yelle and Nagham Wehbe contribute greatly to the overall emotional and visual affect of the play. In subtle and overt ways, they land and reinforce some very critical truths regarding life and death in Syria.
Kiss runs through June 18 at Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd. in Los Angeles.